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Iran holds first elections since historic nuclear deal

By Amy R. Connolly   |   Feb. 26, 2016 at 6:55 AM

TEHRAN, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Millions of Iranians took to the polls in two key elections Friday, the first since last year's landmark nuclear deal and economic sanctions against the country were lifted.

Iranians are voting for members of the 290-person Parliament for four-year terms and the 88 member Assembly of Experts, which chooses the supreme leader. Assembly of Experts members serve for eight years. There are some 53,000 polling stations throughout the country with about 55 million people eligible to vote.

The economy remains the top domestic issue as reformists hope to increase their influence over the government. For the rest of the world, the outcome of the elections is expected to be a strong indicator of whether Iran is moving in a more moderate direction after the nuclear deal and lifting of the economic sanctions. President Barack Obama has said the agreement not only blocks the threat from an Iranian atomic bomb, but also strengthens the economic security of the moderate forces, a boon for the region and the world.

The vote is seen as crucial to moderate president Hassan Rouhani, who helped usher in the nuclear deal. The daughter of former moderate president Hashemi Rafsanjani encouraged voters to support Rouhani backers in the polls.

"The most important goal we want as reformists is to have a pragmatic, intelligent and balanced Parliament that will stand behind Mr. Rouhani and his programs, not a Parliament like the current one that tries to block the government," said Iranian women's rights activist and politician Faezeh Rafsanjani.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged voters to turn out for the election to "disappoint our enemies."

"Whoever likes Iran and its dignity, greatness and glory should vote. Iran has enemies. They are eyeing us greedily. People should be observant and vote with open eyes and should vote wisely," he said after casting his vote.

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